PROVO Keith Roland has been constantly tempted to leave the Provo Police Department because he would have made another $400 a month even if another police department paid him the exact same salary.
That's because until Tuesday, Provo was one of a handful of Utah cities that didn't pay the entire monthly cost of its police retirement benefit. So Roland had to make up the difference out of his own pocket, $400 a month.
And that is exactly the amount he'll pay each month for the next two years to support his son, who leaves in three weeks to serve a mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Roland and other Provo police officers celebrated late Tuesday when the City Council voted unanimously to take over those payments.
Provo has struggled for years to recruit and retain officers and maintain a fully staffed police force. As of Tuesday, the city had 92 officers for 100 jobs, and the City Council heard strong evidence that one reason is because officer candidates knew they'd have to pay 9 percent of their salary toward their retirement package.
Lt. Todd Grossgebauer teaches new recruits at the police academy, and they were aware of the disparity between Provo and every other police agency in Utah County.
"It's very difficult to explain to them I pay 9 percent of my wage to (the retirement program) and it comes out of my paycheck after taxes," Grossgebauer said. "Try to explain that to a 21-year-old person entering the work force."
It was hard enough to explain it to Provo's finest. More than 40 officers, nearly half of the city's police force, attended Tuesday night's meeting.
Mayor Lewis Billings praised the officers who spoke, led by senior officer Hiatt Bean, for making their case with dignity, respect and class. But he urged the council to take more time to make its decision.
The City Council, however, was stunned to learn from Capt. Dave Bolda that Provo was the last large city in the state to require police officers to contribute to their retirement. The Sandy City Council agreed last week to join the state's public safety noncontributory system, which means its officers no longer have to contribute to their retirement.
Every few years, the state Legislature opens a window for cities to join the noncontributory system. The window opened this year closes on Jan. 1. Tuesday's meeting was the last of the year for the Provo City Council, and Council Chairman George Stewart chastised the city administration for waiting to bring the issue before the council.
Councilman Steve Turley said he would be willing to consider an emergency meeting before the end of the year.
"I don't want there to be unintended consequences we are going to regret," he said. "I'd like to review some of the numbers provided by the officers, the administration and the human resources department. Is it worth spending a little more time to flush out these possible unintended consequences?"
But Stewart pushed a vote. Now Billings and the council have to figure out how to pay for the change.
Provo has a parity ordinance that requires the city to pay the same amount to every employee's retirement. To boost all of Provo's employees by 9 percent would cost $3 million a year.
The council indicated it would change the parity ordinance early next year. Stewart said the ordinance already created disparity because firefighters didn't have to contribute to their retirement because the state collects a tax on homeowners insurance to fund part of the retirement fund.The question now is how other city employees will react. None was in attendance Tuesday. Provo passed its parity ordinance in 1983 to deal with complaints between employees about parity in retirement costs.
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